Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech

Productive weekend?

I have spent the weekend doing nothing. Which is great right? Well no, not if you attempting to start a business, run a successful blog or be a creative person, doing nothing is the opposite of a good weekend. I am attempting to do all of these things, so a weekend of doing nothing is, in fact, a failure, especially as I put in about 50 hours a week into my ‘day job’.

So in an attempt to claw back some semblance of a productive weekend, I started to read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech. The theory being that it might kick start me into doing something creative.

Although some would say that this blog post wasn’t creative, I beg to differ. In today’s society, there are many mediums which would previously have been overlooked or brushed off which now fall under the creative banner. Blogging is one of those, but I started this blog in an attempt to get me writing on a more regular basis, the theory being that you need to write more to get better at writing.

After this, I will move on to my own authory projects and in fact whilst writing this blog post, I have collaborated with my flatmate on the layout for one of our business websites and booked myself onto a course about getting finding an agent and a publisher, so more productive in this last two hours than the whole of the rest of the weekend combined.

The Book of the Speech

This book is actually pretty interesting, much apart from the title, the words and the meaning behind those words which make up the speech itself, because this book is a work of Art.

I used to work in a bookshop (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before) and if this book had come into my store, I really would have struggled to work out where to put it.

Why?

Because it is not a conventional book. Some would call it a coffee table book, being of the nature of the design of your classic book designed to be left on a coffee table for people to read. However, it is not a dip in and out kind of book, which most coffee table books are…

I think Neil Gaiman and Chip Kidd would be quite offended by this, to be honest. It is more in line with the essays of… collection by Penguin.

But then even that is not quite right. This book is a very visual interpretation of a speech about making good art which Neil Gaiman gave to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts students in May 2012. The visual side provided by Chip Kidd.

And I have to say, it is full of good advice and statements which really do make you think about what it means to make art and who in fact you are making it for. So much so that, even though I am fairly certain that no one will actually read this blog post (I haven’t SEO’d the life out of it for a start) I am still writing it and putting it out into the big wide world for all to see. Which is exactly the point.

Don’t make art for the money! Make the art you want to make and make it for you!

So, if you don’t want to spend the £12.99 to purchase this speech turned into a work of art, then you are welcome to listen and watch the whole thing on Vimeo.

Much like his wife, Amanda Palmer, Neil knows the benefits of giving away some of his work for free, he knows the worth of his fans and he knows how to encourage loyalty amongst them.

Neil Gaiman is the critically acclaimed, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, stories, graphic novels, children’s books, and screenplays. Originally from England, Gaiman now lives in the United States. He fears the Fraud Police.

[Taken from the back sleeve of the book]

See below speech by Amanda Palmer on the definition of Fraud Police.

Chip Kidd provides the graphics and design for this book. It certainly is a piece of art.

Graphics from Neil Gaiman's Speech

Chip Kidd is a graphic designer and writer in New York City. He tries to make good art, but mostly just makes mistakes. Whether or not any of them are interesting, amazing, glorious, or fantastic is anyone’s guess.

[Taken from back sleeve of the book]

 

So, if you have a spare half hour and are looking for some inspiration, then I suggest you grab a copy and give it a read.

 

Burial – Neil Cross

I am a little ashamed to say that this is the first Neil Cross book that I have read. I am a massive fan of Luther and was really pleased to discover that the series also had a series of three tie-in novels.

Why this book?

Neil Cross has written nine books in total and for most, it would make sense either to start at the beginning or with one of the Luther novels. I, however, chose to read one of his stand-alone novels to get a better idea of his writing style.

I love it when books are combined with other media. If you’ve checked out my Instagram you’ll see that I do love a good multimedia tie-in. From Terry Pratchett, via Harry Potter all the way to The Rivers of London series, if there are different media versions or tie-ins in different media’s then I’m there. Give me a good film adaptation, a tv series or an audiobook and I’m there, combine it with a game, graphic novel and display models of characters and I am in love.

This way of supplementing the storylines of Luther with additional tie-in novels is really appealing. So why not choose one of those as my first Neil Cross reading experience? If I’m honest, I didn’t’ want to taint the experience with my love of Luther the TV series. I often find that if you love a character or a series of characters then you can ignore bad writing.

Take J K Rowling as an example, she has done amazingly well and has written a brilliant story which appeals to both adults and children alike, but I genuinely do not feel that the Harry Potter series would have been commissioned on book one and two alone. If she had not submitted the overall story arc for the series, I don’t think book three would have been picked up. I find the writing style in the first book to be pretty basic and actually quite terrible. It was only at book three that I really began to enjoy the reading experience. Book one and two are necessary for setting out the storyline and introducing the characters, but for anyone (over the age of about 14) who enjoys reading, I think these are a necessary chore.

And for that reason, I chose a stand-alone.

The Story

Burial has a very simple storyline

Can your guiltiest secret ever be buried?

Nathan has never been able to forget the worst night of his life: the party that led to the sudden, shocking death of a young woman. Only he and Bob, an untrustworthy old acquaintance, know what really happened and they have resolved to keep it that way. But one rainy night, years later, Bob appears at Nathan’s door with terrifying news, and old wounds are suddenly reopened, threatening to tear Nathan’s whole world apart. Because Nathan has his own secrets now. Secrets that could destroy everything he has fought to build. And maybe Bob doesn’t realise just how far Nathan will go to protect them…

[Synopsis is taken from the back cover of the book]

The story for Burial is a simple one, girl dies and secrets are kept. It spans a period of about ten years I think and although some of these years are covered with the cursory, years later, you can forgive Neil this as the main events are covered in great detail and within a matter of pages, he is able to paint a realistic picture of the relationships which develop in the years not documented. True to life, it is the mundane which shows the passing of time and the extraordinary events which shape the actions and relationships of the main characters.

Neil manages to make you feel the pain of loss which is felt by the death of this girl as well as the regret and fear of the lead characters.

Note from the author

I wanted to tell a story where things just keep getting worse and worse for the main character. I wanted to write about guilt and ghosts and murder. But mostly, I wanted to entertain people, and frighten them. I wanted to keep them awake until the early hours.

In this respect at least, it turns out that that Burial was pretty successful. My new editor Francesca and I kept a nightmare tally.

[Taken from Neil-cross.com]

Did I find this book scary? At times it was a little spine-chilling yes. I think for me though, reading takes away some of the fear factor, I am in control and I know I can put the book down at any time.

I did, in fact, have one nightmare, but perhaps because I read this book in several sittings over a series of weeks, I was not continuously immersed in the world and the characters lives to the extent that I would have been if I read it all in one or two sittings.

Overall review

I really enjoyed this book and found that putting it down was quite hard. Unlike some though, it was easy to pick up again without having to re-read pages to discover where I had gotten up to. Like many of his other books, I feel this story would translate really well into a TV production. The fact that Neil Cross writes for TV shows in his writing style. The more I read and discover about authors, the more I realise that you can tell those authors whose job revolves around writing and those who do it as a side project or hobby.

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

This is a book about a mid-life crisis.

I may not be a homosexual American man facing turning fifty imminently, but I can still relate to the character of Arthur Less, as I think many of us can. Rather than face the uncomfortable truth that his lover of nine years has chosen to marry another man, Less embarks upon a trip around the world and whilst doing so, faces the prospect of turning fifty alone.

I’m not going to lie, this is where I see myself at 49, failed relationships haunting me, regret at life unlived, wanting to run away from my problems. Hell, that’s what I feel like already some days.

The only redeeming thing about Less is that he is a published author and even he feels as though that isn’t enough. His work on his current novel isn’t going well and really it is probably this, combined with the news of his ex’s wedding which pushes him to run away.

Synopsis

Who says you can’t run away from your problems?

Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward: he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world.

From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face. Less is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart.

Story and structure

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018, this book is very well written. It paints a beautiful picture of each of the cities that Less visits and the people that he meets.

I found the structure of this book to be easy to read. Each chapter covers a different city or a different event in Less’s journey. It was a great book to read in amongst others, the subject matter was different to each of the other books I was reading at the time and the chapter structure made it easy to pick up and put down.

The writing is eloquent and the vocabulary used is most certainly award-winning. I found myself looking for my thesaurus just to feel more intellectual.

Is Less a loveable character? This is a hard question to answer, sometimes I found myself laughing, sometimes I found myself facepalming at the situations he seems to get himself into. And yet, he is lucky.

Less seems to find Love in one form or another in every city he visits. He is loved by his friends and his old flames and dalliances, rarely do you find a character this flawed who seems to land on his feet so often. Sure he has his major setbacks in life, but this just makes him more realistic.

Andrew Sean Greer has written six novels and a plethora of short stories. He has won many awards and Less has won him the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2018.

This makes total sense. Greer is a great writer, one who clearly excels at any subject which he puts his mind to.

The Girl Who takes an Eye for an Eye

Stieg Larsson and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of those books which was recommended by everyone. So many of my friends said that they had read it and enjoyed it, that it was “my kind of book”.

Eventually, I gave in and picked up a copy at my local charity shop. This is my usual strategy for dealing with books and/or authors who, I feel, are too popular. I refused to buy any of Dan Brown’s books brand new, and don’t even get me started on James Patterson. I’m a little bit less self righteous now a days.

The first two chapters (from what I can remember – it was a few years ago now) were a bit of a hard slog, Larsson was most certainly one for detail and he clearly did an awful lot of research for each of his novels. I did actually learn from these two chapters, but the subject was mainly the financial market of Sweden and how technology companies made their money, so really a bit dry.

Once I got past these chapters though, the story began to unfold and grabbed me, I began to read it ferociously, even taking it in the bath with me (not something I’m keen to do with hardbacks – after so many years and so many ‘destroyed’ books and dust jackets). I fell in love with the characters and willed them to find their happy ending, or perhaps just some closure and peace after so many years of mystery and loss.

This trilogy is not for the faint-hearted. There are several very graphic scenes depicted within its pages. I have to admit, when I found out it was going to be made into a film, I was pleased, but also a little apprehensive over how the director would deal with this level of graphic physical and sexual violence whilst still keeping the integrity of the story. I was, thankfully, pleasantly surprised.

After book one, I wasn’t sure how the story would progress as there did seem to be a rather neat round-up at the end,  but I was keen to find out and purchased each of the other two books in the trilogy brand new as they were released. It was a relief to see that Larsson really was a master storyteller and was able to push his characters into new plots and new conspiracies with ease.

One of the things which makes his stories so believable is the vast cast of characters who appear. Often in novels, the author will only write about and focus on characters with whom the main protagonist will come into contact. Larsson, however, knows that there are more than just the main characters in play in each of the scenarios and predicaments his characters get themselves into, he sees the far-reaching effects of the, often rash behaviour of his main characters, and he shows it to us. His ensemble cast is massive. For any of you who have read or even seen Game of Thrones, well he could easily have rivalled George R R Martin if he focussed on more than one the lands of Westeros and their ruling families.

When I first started reading this series of books, I got a little annoyed at his jumping between, seemingly unimportant, characters. but as time went on, and I learned of their importance to the story, I forgave him. It is this aspect which makes his often far-fetched stories come to life, seeing the scenarios from different characters, including the villains, makes each event a lot more tangible and real.

David Lagercrantz

Steig Larsson died prior to the publication of the Millenium series and it with this knowledge that I read them, knowing that the third book would be the last. So in 2015, when I saw that there was a fourth book, I was a little surprised, to say the least.

The publishers and Larsson’s estate (controlled by his brother and father) decided that a fourth book was a good idea in order to continue the ‘adventures’ of Lisbeth, such a foreboding (all be it tiny in stature) female character, one who showed strength and a strong moral compass (you really do have to read more than just a few chapters to see what is meant by this).

The Girl who took an Eye for an Eye

I was rather keen to read this book, to learn more about Lisbeth’s history but I was still worried about what a new author would do with the characters. It was well recorded that Lagaercrantz had a bit of an issue with the way in which women would throw themselves at Bloomkvist without a seconds thought. He, therefore, tries to make Bloomkvist work a bit more for female attention. Other than that though, he has kept quite closely to Larsson’s style.

Parts of Lisbeth’s story was, of course, explored and explained, in the three books written by Larsson; Lagaercratz goes on to explore some of the incidents in more depth, adding more psychology to the character of Lisbeth.

It is a well-written story which doesn’t take away from the Millenium series. Instead, adding to the depth and personal history of several of the characters, filling them out to make them more than merely two-dimensional characters on the periphery of Millenium and the authorities investigations, and instead making them fully fledged characters in their own right.

There are some interesting themes explored in this book; religion, honour and family play a pivotal role in the story and its twists and turns. Lisbeth and her moral beliefs and complexities get her into all sorts of trouble, whilst dealing with her own demons, both real and imagined.

Synopsis of the previous books

**** BEWARE – if you have not read any of the “trilogy” then please note that these synopses may contain spoilers. ***

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

The first book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon.

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

The Girl Who Played With Fire – Steig Larsson

The second book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon

Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society – but no-one can find her.

Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium magazine’s legendary star reporter, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander’s innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight – but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest – Steig Larsson

The third book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon

Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release.

With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz

The sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series has been shrouded in such secrecy that the novel was written on computers with no internet connection to avoid any leaks. Based on a plot outline Stieg Larsson wrote before his death, the novel was completed by David Lagercrantz and is finally here.

The uncompromising anti-hero Lisbeth Salander is again the chief protagonist, along with campaigning journalist Mikael Blomkvist, a lone wolf and champion of the truth. When a superhacker has gained access to top secret U.S. intelligence, Lisbeth is accused of acting without reason, but Blomkvist knows there must be something deeper at the heart of this – unveiling a tangled web of truth that someone is prepared to kill to protect.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO IS BACK WITH A UK NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – David Lagercrantz

From the author of the #1 international best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes the fifth book in the Millennium series, which began with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the global publishing phenomenon that has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide.

Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, the brilliant hacker, the obstinate outsider, the volatile seeker of justice for herself and others—even she has never been able to uncover the most telling facts of her traumatic childhood, the secrets that might finally, fully explain her to herself.

Now, when she sees a chance to uncover them once and for all, she enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of the muckraking, investigative journal Millennium. And she will let nothing stop her—not the Islamists she enrages by rescuing a young woman from their brutality; not the prison gang leader who passes a death sentence on her; not the deadly reach of her long-lost twin sister, Camilla; and not the people who will do anything to keep buried knowledge of a sinister pseudoscientific experiment known only as The Registry.

Once again, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, together, are the fierce heart of a thrilling full-tilt novel that takes on some of the most insidious problems facing the world at this very moment.

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

The Author

Paula Hawkins is most famously known for her debut novel ‘The Girl on the Train’, which is not only a bestselling novel but now a very successful film starring Emily Blunt.

I loved this book, I also quite enjoyed the film. There was something not quite right about the main character and everything that happened to her. You willed her to be more than she appeared. You felt sorry for her, but at the same time, you could definitely see yourself making the same mistakes. Rachel is a flawed individual, an alcoholic, at times a horrible person, but someone who you are rooting for. Hawkins manages to make her all of those things within the first couple of chapters and untangles her twisted tale throughout the rest of the book. It truly was a page-turner.

The Book

I have on occasion been known to use the cliched saying “This book was a joy to read”, I cannot, however, say that about this book. It is well written and the story is intriguing, but it is harrowing and I’d compare it to the feeling you get when watching a true life crime programme.  You know the feeling when you question how humanity can be so cruel and evil? That is how I feel about this book.

Into the Water front cover

The way I talk about this book is the way I hear people talking about ’13 Reasons Why’, it is at times painful to read and it reminds you of the horrendous acts which people can inflict upon each other.

However, Hawkin’s way of storytelling is really keeping me hooked, I really do want to know what happens.

Who killed Nel? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Who or what is this mysterious power who rids the town of ‘troublesome women’?

Synopsis

‘I need you to call me back. It’s important’

Just days before her sister plunged to her death, Jules ignored her call.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death.

But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowining in secrecy…

And of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

Relationships

The book focusses on the relationships between several central characters. It is perhaps the relationship between Jules and her sister Nel which makes me most uncomfortable, but this is, in fact, a positive reflection of Hawkin’s writing.

The realism of the relationships in her writing makes me question my own sibling relationship and wonder if I, the older sister are seen in such a negative light as Jules clearly see’s Nel. This relationship is tragic really, the sisters could have helped each other through so much, instead, they were at each other’s throats.

I have an almost morbid fascination with stories which focus on dysfunctional family relationships, I think that they make me feel better about my own. It can be cathartic, whilst also being incredibly uncomfortable, to relate to these characters so deeply.

Another main theme appears to be the relationship between parent and child. Each character’s relationship with either their parent or child is explored and the flaws in these relationships laid bare. Be it the distrust which Josh Whittaker has for his mother, the painful shared loss which prevents Sean from interacting properly with his father or perhaps Nel’s dysfunctional relationship with her daughter Lena.

At the heart of this book is not the river, as first believed, but the interactions and often disastrous encounters which the characters have with one another. the love and the hatred felt by each of them is visceral

Mystery and intrigue

The mystery surrounding ‘The Drowning Pool’ is what pulls the story on, but it is the character relationships which make up the bulk of the narrative, these interactions make up the daily lives of the characters whose lives seem rather mundane and normal on the surface. Once you look below the ordinary exterior of the people in Beckford you discover the dark secrets and turmoil hiding just below the surface

Setting

Into the Water is set in a small town called Beckford. It is supposedly about an hour’s drive from Craster and Howick. In spite of Hawkins very clear description of the town, it’s geography and it’s layout, it does not actually exist.

In researching this town, I have discovered a website called ‘The Book Trail‘ which discusses the locations discussed in various books. It is basically a blog which focusses on the settings of books. There is even a section in which authors will discuss their works in relation to the settings.

“As much fun travelling via fiction is, sometimes all you need is to sit back and take the time to enjoy a drink, a piece of cake and chat with the people on the journey with you”

Overall opinion

Although this book is not the most upbeat book I’ve read recently, it was certainly one which kept me hooked and wanting to know more every time I had to put it down. The twists and turns were not predictable and although you felt like some of the character’s actions were vindicated, I still felt myself questioning their motives or arguing with them in my head.

This is a very well written book and a story that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. Well worth a read, but only if you are in the right emotional state.

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

Book and Skull

Anthony Horowitz

I found this book on offer at my local supermarket. Having never read an Alex Rider novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the idea of Horowitz moving from Young Adult stories into Adult stories intrigued me.

When I picked up the book, I was unaware of Horowitz’s other career achievements in TV and film.

To me he had always been a YA author.

Story device

This book struck me as a bit strange and unusual within ten pages. Anthony Horowitz has broken the fourth wall of writing. This in itself is not unusual. It has been done in many novels over the years. What is unusual is that he had made himself a character. And the information he provides about himself is pretty accurate. It makes me wonder how much of the rest of the story is based on real people and real events. 

Lemony Snicket, of course, used this method in his ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, so it is not a new device, I think I was just a little surprised to see it used in such a way. This is, after all, a murder mystery. It is not as if he is using his voice as a character, he himself is the character, with a real life and a real family and his achievements are real and accurate, his career is real, even his script for Tintin being scrapped is real (although, who knows if it went down the way the describes in the book).

As I read through the book, I realised that there is a lot of factual information about who Horowitz has worked with and what he has worked on. So much so that at times I feel his main characters in the murder mystery are in fact real people. Although, after a few more paragraphs, you realise that he has likely taken the trajectory of one actor’s career, an actor he has worked quite closely with over the years, and lent it to his character. Changing perhaps only the spelling of his name and his, of course, his surname. In a way, this use of real people reminds me of ‘Being John Malkovich’ or James Van Der Beak’s character in ‘The B**** in apartment 23’.

Thoughts and opinions

Having now finished the book, I am more and more inclined to believe that this murder actually happened. Both Hawthorne and Anthony are of course real people, the places they visit are most certainly real, and it leads me to believe that many of the events are also. I am still unsure if Horowitz would have been allowed to play as big a part as he leads us to believe, but when you break the fourth wall, you’ve got to be at the heart of the action. 

The title of the novel appears on page 25, during a conversation between Horowitz and Hawthorne, he then also makes reference to this at the end of the book. I found this running commentary to the story to be very useful but at times a little off-putting. It is a good story, told well, but I think I found it hard to get over the main device.

Horowitz’s career

The other main character, Hawthorne, reminded me, in a lot of ways, of Sherlock Holmes. Which makes total sense as in 2011, Horowitz released ‘The House of Silk’ the first Sherlock Holmes novel written as a new story with the estates blessing. However, I believe that he is also a real person, but whether he’s as insightful or reserved as his character in the book, is anyone’s guess.

The more I read about Horowitz and his career both on and off the screen, the more I realise that he was an ideal choice for such an endeavour.

He has since written a second Sherlock Holmes novel, Moriarty and in 2014, the Ian Flemming estate commisioned him to write ‘Trigger Mortis’, a new James Bond novel. His Alex Rider novels, of course, made him an obvious choice for this franchise as they are often referred to as ‘Teenage James Bond’.

His second James Bond novel “Forever and a Day” has just been released in hardback.

“007 is back. After authentically recreating the golden age of James Bond in his high-speed thriller, Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz is back in Ian Fleming‘s shoes once more.  In Forever and a Day he brings readers an official prequel to Casino Royale, telling the story of the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.” – Waterstones

The Word is Murder

The story itself is a pretty good one, a murder mystery at heart and one which compels you to read on and learn more. Not just about the murder but about  Horowitz, (or Anthony, as he likes to be called) and Hawthorne themselves. 

“A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.  A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own. A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control. What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz’s page-turning new thriller.

Spread the word, The Word is Murder!” (sic) – Waterstones

I have to admit, even if this novel weren’t written by a world-famous author like Horowitz, I’d have picked it up, the blurb alone is intriguing. Although, it now gives me pause on the idea of pre-arranged funerals. The story actually turns out to be quite emotional with plot twists galore, most of which I, the reader, did not see coming.

I also found the writing to be easy to follow and fast paced, perhaps this is down to his career in young adult fiction. I did actually find myself steaming through the pages of this book. A great read to take away on holiday or on a long train/plane journey. Reading this book was actually quite pleasurable if at times a little off-putting when Horowitz himself interjects his thoughts and feelings. Definitely worth a read though.

The History of Bees – Maja Lunde

The Story

This book is more a book about human relationships much more than it is a story about bees. Past present and future are brought together under the same overarching subject. The three main characters are driven by these creatures in different ways. Bees bring these three characters together with a unity across the ages.

The focus is given to the relationships of the main characters and their offspring, of their relationships with their parents, the relationships with their mentors. A very emotive story which hones in on the human condition at three distinct time periods; past, present and future.

Pace and style

The first half of this book is fairly slow moving, unlike a lot of what I have read recently ‘ History of Bees’ does not have sudden surprising events, it is powered by the emotive narrative and the character’s story rather than a series of high-intensity events.

Each character suffers a life-changing event throughout the duration of the book. When we meet William, it seems as though he has already suffered a life-changing event, one which has driven him to seek refuge in his bed. But as his story arc unfolds, you realise it is not that simple and William still has a lot to give and a lot to learn. You follow him on his ups and downs, experiencing his euphoria and his pain in equal measure as if it were your own.

Next comes Tao, we witness her heart-wrenching tragedy early on in the book and from then on we follow her on her quest to find her son and the truth. Being that Tao’s storyline is set in a fictitious future, it is her who truly and eventually brings all three timelines together as one.

Lastly, George, as flawed as his character seems, his problems appear to be of his own making; but when colony collapse finally takes his hives, you can’t help but feel a little heartbroken along with him. Although he is my least favourite character in the book, you really do empathise and sympathise when disaster strikes.

Lunde’s writing style really helps you to feel the emotions of the characters with them. She creates a deep sense of empathy with the characters. When William’s son ignores him, you feel it, when Tao’s son is out of her reach, you empathise and when George’s son is fearful, you want to comfort him too.

Bee image

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap

***THE NUMBER ONE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER***
‘Fans of Cloud Atlas and Never Let Me Go will love The History of Bees’ Good Housekeeping
‘Dystopian and electric, this book is set to blow minds everywhere’ Stylist
‘Haunting and poignant … an important and wonderful book’ Dave Goulson, bestselling author of Bee Quest

In the spirit of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, this dazzling and ambitious literary debut follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future, weaving a spellbinding story of their relationship to the bees – and to their children and one another – against the backdrop of an urgent, global crisis.

England, 1851. William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive-one that will give both him and his children honour and fame.

The United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper and fights an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident and is kept in the dark about his whereabouts and condition she sets out on a gruelling journey to find out what happened to him.

Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought-provoking story that is just as much about the powerful relationships between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.

Praise for The History of Bees

Book cover

‘Spectacular and deeply moving. Lunde has elegantly woven together a tale of science and science fiction, dystopia and hope, and the trials of the individual and the strengths of family’ Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author

‘Such is the genius of debut novelist Maja Lunde that her tale of three eras-the long past, the tenuous present and the biologically damned future-is strung on the fragile hope of the survival of bees’ Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author

‘As a lover of honeybees and a fan of speculative fiction, I was doubly smitten by The History of Bees. Maja Lunde’s novel is an urgent reminder of how much our survival depends on those remarkable insects. It is also a gripping account of how-despite the cruellest losses-humanity may abide and individual families can heal’ Jean Hegland, author of Into the Forest

‘By turns devastating and hopeful, The History of Beesresonates powerfully with our most pressing environmental concerns. Following three separate but interconnected timelines, Lunde shows us the past, the present, and a terrifying future in a riveting story as complex as a honeycomb’ Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author

‘Here is a story that is sweeping in scope but intimate in detail’ Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise

‘A brilliant and beautiful novel’ Jan Askelund, Stavanger Aftenblad

‘She does everything right […] She paints on a broad canvas, the topic is highly important and the language is both comprehensive and precise’ Geir Vestad, Hamar Arbeiderblad

‘One can easily understand the buzz …’ Maria Årolilja Rø, Adresseavisa

‘The settings portrayed in the novel are impressively visual and each character is perfectly naturally rooted in his or her own era and environment’ Janneken Øverland, Klassekampen

‘Maja Lunde will reach a big audience with The History of Bees. (…) She has written a novel many will read in one go, and then sit down and think, about life, the world and the future. That is unique and it is very well done’ Annette Orre, littkritikk.no

‘The History of Bees is a fascinating and brilliantly written novel that elegantly moves between the various stories and timelines’ Oddmund Hagen, Dag og Tid

Thoughts

George’s story is set in the present, he operates a farm of beehives. His storyline focuses on the dysfunctional relationship he has with his son.
William’s storyline is set in the past. He is crippled with self-doubt and no amount of research seems to herald the answer to his problem. – someone who I can most certainly relate to, someone who takes to his bed rather than face the failures which life throws at him.
Tao is the future, a desolate future which may well become a reality if we do not take care of the bees. A relationship with her parents which is all too familiar to me. Backbreaking work for a person who does not fit in. Her one solace is her family and the time she spends with them. When this is threatened, she will do everything to get back to the harmony of her family.

Full of historical references, Maja Lunde certainly does her research. History of Bees also includes an education in many other areas including coffee. When I was a kid, my uncle kept bees in his garden, each summer I would don the white beekeeper’s suite (always several sizes too large for me) and head out with him to tend to the hives. I loved it. Learning about the bees, their home and the way they made honey just fascinated me. This book has reignited some of that enthusiasm, so much so, I’ve started looking into owning my own hive, or at the very least a lone bee home.

Lunde has a great way with storytelling. Seamlessly moving from one chapter to another. Her style reminds me of a well thought out mixtape where the theme or rhythm of one song leads perfectly into the next. It flows well, no jitteriness between chapters, which I found surprising considering that the three characters and the three periods in time are so fundamentally different. But are they? Is it just the bees which bring these three characters lives together, or does their scholarliness, their melancholy and their dysfunctional relationships with their family bring more unity than they seem?

Lunde is a Norweigan author. Her earlier work is mainly in the field of young adult and children’s novels, but like all great authors, she spans genres and sub-genres brilliantly.

I love this book! I would recommend it to anyone. I read this book feeling as though I was reading a Nobel or a Man Booker, but without the pretentiousness that I often feel comes with them.

Tin – a young adult novel by Pådraig Kenny

This book is great!

At first glance, I totally misjudged this book. I thought Tin was going to be another re-telling of Oz, I was wrong. Instead, it is an inspiring story which tackles such topics as Empathy, Loss, Prejudice, Discrimination, Love and Friendship. And it does so in such a naturalistic way that you never feel as though you are being preached to, rather that you are on this journey with the main characters and are experiencing each of these through their eyes, through their thoughts and through their feelings and emotions.

Book Cover of Tin

Blurb

Orphan Christopher works for Mr Absalom, an engineer of mechanical children. he’s happy being the only ‘real’ boy among his scrap-metal buddies made from bits and bobs – until an accident reveals an awful truth.

What follows is a remarkable adventure as the friends set out to discover who and what they are and even what it means to be human.

[Taken from book jacket]

About

Tin is Pådraig Kenny’s first book. Published by Chicken House it falls into the category of ‘young adult’. For all you adult readers out there, this should not put you off, in fact, I think it has helped Kenny that this book is classified in such a way. I feel that this could greatly increase his readership.

Tin has certainly opened my eyes to the variety and depth of the young adult market. Gone are the days when all YA books are about shiny vampires and werewolves.

Themes

The themes explored in Tin are quite deep. At first, I had images of reading this book to my nephew (he’s seven) but after getting a little further in, I realised, although he would love the characters and the vivid haphazard environments full of metal and mechanics, there were parts of the story which he would find upsetting.

I think that Tin would most definitely make a good film. With the right director, producer and film studio picking this up, I think Tin could most certainly become a film in the realms of Box Trolls or Coraline.

I can most definitely see Tin being turned into a film or TV series one day. For any of you who have watched films such as ‘box trolls’ or any Tim Burton animation, I would compare its visuality and it’s mismatched characters to them. If Tin does not get picked up by a film company soon, I will be incredibly surprised.

I found that more and more throughout the story, I sided squarely with the mechanical characters and believed the ‘human’ or ‘proper’ characters to be, if not evil, then severely wanting of certain emotions and empathy. More mechanical in nature than the mechanicals themselves. Kenny slips seamlessly between the narrative of children and mechanicals and that of the adult and ‘proper’ characters. Often highlighting the moral subtext and ethical issues through character interaction and description of behaviour rather than their speech.

After finishing Tin, I happened to re-watch Blade Runner. Now, I am not comparing the two as such, but if you enjoyed the ethical suggestions and moral issues which Blade Runner addresses, then this is a good book to read.

Thoughts

I finished this book in under a week, it is the first time I’ve managed to do that in a long time. I would say, that in part, this is because it was such a delight to read.

Tin is an incredibly visual book. Kenny paints such vivid pictures with his words that you are drawn into the environments and become not merely a bystander, but a real part of the action unfolding, you become a character, all be it a silent one, in the story.

The backdrop for Tin is similar, in set up, to a ‘steampunk‘ kind of reality. Except, instead of steam you have mechanicals who seem to be powered by the mechanisms within and a tiny drop of magic. Kenny does such a good job in writing this story that it becomes natural for the reader to suspend their disbelief. I was intrigued as to how the mechanicals operated in the way that they do, but once explained, it seemed to make so much sense that I didn’t really question it.

I do like fantasy and sci-fi novels, but sometimes, when an author chooses magic over science, I do find it slightly hard to swallow. In Tin though, the use of a magical element makes total sense and is not juxtaposed to the mechanics of the era at all. The culture and society, as well as the backdrop for the story, are rural in their heritage. The divergence in our timelines being centred in the World Wars is the perfect way to account for such great difference in our technological advances and history.

Who should read Tin?

I would totally recommend this book to anyone! If you are twelve, then this is a great book. It will offer up moral perspectives which you may not yet have come across in your lifetime as well as a story which will keep you entertained and wanting more every time you have to put the book down. For the avid young reader, this is the perfect book to add to your library. It should be stocked in all school and local libraries.

If you are an adult, then I would equally recommend this book to you. Sod the YA classification for this book. Harry Potter was a YA book and that didn’t stop millions of adults openly reading it. Tin is a great book which opens your eyes to different perspectives associated with the possibility of Technological Singularity and moves away from the classic Terminator-style future we are so used to seeing in most post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels and films.

 

Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

Black Widow – 7th Jack Parlabane novel

By Chris Brookmyre

I picked up Black Widow a few months ago. It looked like my kind of book; crime thriller, critically acclaimed, award-winning (Don’t worry, I’m not always swayed by that aspect, it just helps to narrow down when waiting in a train station or looking for something to read on holiday when I don’t want to take a risk on an unknown quantity of quality). And half price to boot (loss-leading marketing by such stores as Waterstones and W H Smith, really does work on me when it comes to books, my reading habit is expensive so any discount I can get is truly a winner for me).

I had heard of Chris Brookmyre before I picked up the book, but to my surprise, I’d never actually read anything he’d written.
It’s been sat in my bookcase for months now, even moving with me, and yet still I’d not picked it up to read. Last weekend I was looking for a paperback to read in the bath, my most consumptive reading occurs in the bath, it’s time I feel as though I can completely relax and do what I want, immerse myself in the story with no interruptions. Reading in the bath is the ultimate me time.
On the off chance, I picked up Black Widow. I’m not sure why I’d been putting it off for so long. I am really glad I picked it up that day though.

Chapters and writing

This book is brilliant! It took me a chapter or two to get into it, but the chapter length meant that this was a mere few minutes and the writing style appealed to me instantly. The chapters are reasonably short, although not Patterson short, ranging from 3-10 pages in length, and they jump around between different characters, allowing you to experience the story through their eyes and their words.

The chapter length I find was perfect for getting you gripped and keeping you entertained throughout the whole book. You don’t tend to find your mind wandering half way through a chunky chapter, wishing that you could go back to the Jack or the Jager perspective of the story, instead, when you get to the end of each chapter you are keen to keep reading regarding of whose story arc is next.

I also found this length to be conducive to me being able to read at work and on the train, I rarely found I had to stop reading halfway through a chapter thus interrupting my flow, unlike with some books. This was the main factor in me getting through the book so fast.

Instead of numbers, the chapters are all named, giving you an idea of what you will experience or learn in this chapter. If I midway through a session, I wouldn’t necessarily read the chapter titles before reading the chapters themselves, but I found them to be very useful upon my return to the book after a few hours. You can flip back and remind yourself of the previous chapters contents without having to re-read.

Story and characters

Chris Brookmyre is great at giving you a full view of the characters thoughts and feelings without giving away anything too revealing to the plot. He keeps you on your toes whilst also explaining enough of what is going on that you are never lost in the storyline. His use of non-linear storyline is very naturalistic, and being that Black Widow is his 21st novel, he has had plenty of practice at getting this type of narrative right, and he does, in fact, manage it well.

“There is no perfect Marriage. There is no perfect Murder.”

This is the kind of novel which turns your beliefs about each character upside down with each new piece of information that you learn. One minute you are rooting for the Jager to be found guilty and the next you are questioning what you would do if you were in her shoes. Is Jack truly the ‘catch’ he first appeared? Putting this book down was difficult at times, Chris really does know how to keep you interested, each chapter holds a new twist to be dissected and analysed.

I’m not going to give anything away, but I can tell you that I experienced a strong sense of satisfaction at the outcome of this story. I felt vindicated in my feelings towards characters whose moral compasses had been ambiguous from the start. I also found that Black Widow made me reflect upon my own relationships and how they had formed and panned out over the years.

There is a healthy dose of suspicious and anxiety injected into the narrative of this story. Chris certainly does know a lot about the human psyche. For anyone who has read and enjoyed ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, you will know exactly what I mean by this.

Blurb

And now for a bit more about the story…

Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for he life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing.

Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairytale romance.

But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairytales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media are calling Black Widow.

[Taken from the book Jacket]

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thrilling read. I have lent this book to at least two other people who have both massively enjoyed reading it. It is the ideal book for long journeys or if you are looking for a good read for a staycation. The question of whether Jager is truly the Black Widow she is portrayed as or something else entirely will keep you interested throughout.

Bookshots – by James Patterson

“Bookshots – the revolution in reading”

With over 100 fiction novels under his belt, James Patterson is nothing if not prolific, how then can he be more so? By writing shorter books of course.

Bookshots are the new ‘revolution’ or “gimmick” to come from the marketing team that James Patterson clearly works with. It’s almost as though someone from the publishers went to Patterson and suggested he could make more money by releasing more books. Even with the numerous collaborations, he partakes in, I doubt he’d be able to squeeze out any more novels in the space of a year. This is where Bookshots are born.

Bookshots are the new brainchild of Hachette publishing group. There is a website and an app you can download and each of the books cost less than £3 and features less than 150 pages.  Most titles cost between £0.49 and £1.99 in the UK for the paperback versions. They are available in paperback, ebook, and even audio versions, although it is worth noting that the audiobook versions are usually around £4.99, so you certainly pay a premium for not having to do the work on reading.

I have to admit, Patterson’s style does, in fact, lend itself to this format very well. With his short sentences, minute chapters and fast paced stories, I can think of no better author to write in this format.

For those of you who know Patterson for his crime and thriller novels, Bookshots offer the ideal way to explore his other genres. His crime and thriller novels are well represented with titles including characters such as Alex Cross and Michael Bennett, but he has also produced some romance shorts and a non-fiction about the recent presidential election race between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.

Many of you will be familiar with his many many collaborations but don’t dismay, there is a Bookshot featuring almost every author he has ever co-written with. I have also noticed that some of these bookshops seem to be either prequels, sequels or off shoots of some of his already existing novels eg. Black and Blue (which incidentally is how I found out about Bookshots in the first place).

This format also allows Patterson and his team to mess around with the format of the novel and give away whole sections for free. See Kidnapped  – A Jon Roscoe thriller in five parts, the first of which is free to read (not surprising really as it spans a whopping 8 pages, that’s right one page per chapter) the other four cost a mere £0.49 so you can purchase all five for less than £2.00, bargain right? Well not really if you consider that if you purchase paperbacks when they are on sale in Waterstones or Amazon then you can get a whole novel 1,000 page novel for £3.99 (inc p&p).

You may have already guessed from my tone, I am very cynical of James Patterson and his work. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy his work and I have in fact read a lot of his novels. His books are regularly on my Christmas list but I really do struggle buying into the ‘brand’ of James Patterson. I have read how he coordinates his writing and how he collaborates with other authors. His collaborations can often be one of the main factors in an unknown or little-known author becoming more well known and allowing them to launch or progress their own career. But it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, it feels as if some of these authors are rather taken advantage of to progress Patterson’s own career and to add to his already immense catalogue. Don’t get me wrong, none of these authors seem to mind having their name attached to his work and perhaps it is naive of me to think that these authors could make it without him, but I find it hard to view this as a purely benevolent act on his part and the part of his empire.

Don’t get me wrong, none of these authors seem to mind having their name attached to his work and perhaps it is naive of me to think that these authors could make it without him, but I find it hard to view this as a purely benevolent act on his part and the part of his empire. These authors will surely benefit from the expertise and advice that Patterson has to offer

Check out James Patterson’s vast catalogue of work.

 

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